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Laser Cutting vs. Plasma Cutting

You know your budget, timeline and the products you need, but what type of cutting technique best suits your application? Both laser cutting and plasma cutting are effective solutions for a range of industries. Your choice of service may differ, though, based on the project and metals requiring shaping.

When you partner with Laserfab, we work with you one-on-one to understand your goals. Our team of experts helps determine the best solution that accommodates the metals you’re working with, along with costs, production rates, precision and methods of configuring parts. We specialize in customization and laser cutting applications no matter if you require intricate parts or simple pieces.

What Is Laser Cutting?

Laser cutting is a process that uses a highly concentrated, intense pulsed or continuous beam of light to cut various metals. Through laser optics and the use of computer numerical control (CNC), this cutting technique heats and melts the metal while partially vaporizing it. The process may also include an extreme jet of gas to blow away bits of metal for a clean finish.

The laser cutting method creates pristine, accurate cuts and works with a range of metals. This computer-operated technique is often used for various industrial manufacturing applications, as well as for engraving details, creating intricate notches and cutting small shapes. Laser cutting is especially useful in cases when your products require precision, whether it’s a complex or simple part.

Several advantages of working with a laser cutting machine include:

  • Offers a high level of detail and precision
  • Uses computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) integration
  • Cuts a wider variety of metals
  • Has a standard tolerance of +/- 0.005″
  • Is equipped to cut thinner, more intricate metals
  • Provides faster turnaround times
  • Produces less energy

Laser cutting delivers incredible levels of precision while allowing you to work with a range of metals for the quickest turnaround time. These factors are advantageous for many industries, but lasers also have a few disadvantages, such as:

  • More expensive to operate
  • Doesn’t work as well for thicker metals

Laser cutting machines give businesses incredible freedom, whether they’re engineering delicate and thin parts or working with unique metals. Laser cutting is the ideal solution for when you need intricate and precise metalwork.

What Is Plasma Cutting?

There are several elements involved in how a plasma cutter cuts metals. Plasma cutting uses a melting technique to deliver precise work. Ionized gas, also known as plasma, melts the metal and then expels it. Essentially, compressed air and inert gasses like nitrogen and hydrogen shoot through a nozzle at extreme speeds to essentially blast metals such as stainless steel, copper, aluminum, steel, brass and others with plasma. This cutting process supports applications like automotive repair, industrial construction and fabrication, among others.

When looking at plasma cutting vs. laser cutting, several advantages of plasma cutting include:

  • Cuts thicker metals
  • Works with any conductive metal no matter its surface
  • Offers a more cost-effective solution
  • Used for thick sheet and plate metal often
  • Results in less lost material, also known as kerf
  • Integrates CAD and CAM

While there are several benefits to using this technique, plasma cutting has two main disadvantages. Plasma can only cut specific metals that conduct electricity. Another drawback to this method is that you can only use it for cutting. A major difference between a plasma and laser cutting machine, then, is that the laser can perform multiple processes like scribing and engraving thin metals while the plasma only cuts.

Choosing the Right Cutting Method for Your Application

Working with a plasma cutting machine vs. a laser cutting machine can produce different solutions depending on many factors, two of which are the type and thickness of the metal. Other aspects to consider when determining whether laser or plasma cutting best suits your application are budget, production rates and precision levels.

Here are five considerations when choosing the best cutting method.

  • Cut edge quality: The quality of a part’s cut edge refers to the squareness of a product’s finished borders. Laser cutting creates a square cut while plasma cutting results in a lower edge quality level, as it is beveled.
  • Cut part precision: This precision depends on many aspects, such as heat distortion and the kerf width, as well as the size of the part vs. its programmed size. Laser cutting creates better part precision compared to the plasma technique.
  • Cost: The cost of laser vs. plasma metal cutting takes factors such as power, abrasives, gases, consumables and maintenance into consideration. While plasma cutting is often more cost-effective, the laser technique is faster if you aren’t using thick metals.
  • Production rate: You should also consider the time it would take to cut the metal you’re using. Plasma cutting will be more efficient with thicker metals, while the laser method is faster and more precise with thinner resources.
  • Metal thickness: Laser cutters can cut metals up to 1 inch thick, while plasma can cut up to 5 inches or more.

Laser cutting is a superior option to plasma cutting when you make direct comparisons regarding precision, flexibility, production, edge quality and metal thickness. Understanding how a plasma cutting machine works compared to the laser technique indicates that the latter can help you produce more products with better precision and quality no matter the type of metal.

Choose Laserfab for Laser Cutting

Laserfab is your go-to, reliable manufacturer for outsourcing laser cutting. Our experts are here to partner with your business and ensure we respect your timeline and budget. We have an experienced team with members who pride themselves on high-quality solutions, possess capabilities that surpass your expectations and have customer-focused service mentalities. View our laser cutting photo gallery of past projects to understand our dedication to high-quality work.

Learn more about Laserfab’s laser cutting services or request a quote online. We are here as your trusted partner when laser cutting is the best solution for your applications.

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